Couples, Lehman could have edge at Senior Players Championship

Ralph N. Paulk
| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 7:06 p.m.

The sloping, soggy fairways at Fox Chapel Golf Club could remain besieged by rain if the weekend forecast is accurate. If so, Fred Couples appears the obvious choice to win the Constellation Senior Players Championship.

With the third Champions Tour major set to begin Thursday on a relatively short Seth Raynor-designed layout, Couples possesses the power to fly his ball beyond many of the trouble spots — including the deep fairway bunkers that were pumped Wednesday morning after some were flooded during Tuesday's thunderstorm.

“I think length helps on any course,” said Couples, who leads the tour in five key categories, including a 68.13 scoring average. “I don't think this is a course where length is a huge factor. If you're a long hitter and you're driving it well, any course will play easier.

“I think it's more of having to hit good shots. I'm going to pay more attention to second shots as opposed to driving. If I drive it well, I'll hit more fairways than normal.”

If accuracy becomes a prerequisite, then three-time seniors major winner Tom Lehman could pose a serious threat to dethrone defending champion Joe Daley.

Lehman, who won back-to-back Regions Traditions titles before David Frost ended his reign earlier this year, is ranked No.1 where it might matter most on a par-70 course where flawless iron play is a decisive advantage.

Lehman leads the tour in greens in regulation at an impressive 76 percent, compared to Couples' second-best 74.31. Lehman is first in total driving and eighth in driving accuracy at 74.29 percent.

“It's definitely a shot-maker's course,” said Lehman, who was 2-under on the par-35 inward nine during his Wednesday practice round. “The greens are very difficult, so if you don't get yourself in the fairway then it's tough to get anywhere near the pin.

“You've got to put the ball in the fairway off the tee, and you have to be reasonably accurate with your irons. It becomes, to a large degree, the guy who gets in position (on the greens) will do very well.”

Still, with the possibility of inclement weather shaping the outcome, five-time British Open champion Tom Watson likes Couples' chances of winning his third major title since making his Champions Tour debut in 2010.

Couples didn't light it up during his Wednesday practice round. He fired a 1-under 34 on the back nine, partly because he avoided much of the wiry, wet rough.

Watson said despite Lehman's consistency and accuracy, Couples' distance off the tee matters.

“Fred hits the ball longer than Tom, and the length is certainly a huge factor,” Watson said. “The height with which Fred hits the ball, that's the way the kids (on PGA Tour) play: high and long.”

Couples, who was paired with Daley during last year's final round, has three runner-up finishes this season. He spent time on the driving range after his practice round in an effort to find the right approach shots to the unpredictable greens.

“There are a lot of wet shots here that are tricky, and you have to control the spin on the greens,” said Couples, who leads the tour with a 1.67 putting average. “If the ball hits a slope, it could roll 40 feet from the pin.

“A course like this, with the rough up and if the greens are hard, 68 or 69 is a good score. If there's no wind, the scores might be lower than that.”

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